Review: The Killing Code by Ellie Marney

  • Title: The Killing Code
  • Author: Ellie Marney
  • Genre: historical mystery
  • Intended audience: young adult
  • Format read: ebook
  • Publisher: Little Brown Books
  • Pub date: September 20, 2022
  • Content warnings: death, murder, blood, racism, antisemitism, nazi symbols, homophobia, arson and fire, mentions of sexual assault, serial killer, violence against women
  • Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Virginia, 1943: World War II is raging in Europe and on the Pacific front when Kit Sutherland is recruited to help the war effort as a codebreaker at Arlington Hall, a former girls’ college now serving as the site of a secret US Signals Intelligence facility in Virginia. But Kit is soon involved in another kind of fight: Government girls are being brutally murdered in Washington DC, and when Kit stumbles onto a bloody homicide scene, she is drawn into the hunt for the killer.

To find the man responsible for the gruesome murders and bring him to justice, Kit joins forces with other female codebreakers at Arlington Hall—gossip queen Dottie Crockford, sharp-tongued intelligence maven Moya Kershaw, and cleverly resourceful Violet DuLac from the segregated codebreaking unit. But as the girls begin to work together and develop friendships—and romance—that they never expected, two things begin to come clear: the murderer they’re hunting is closing in on them…and Kit is hiding a dangerous secret.

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I know it is bad to romanticize the past. Especially war time. By no means do I want to live through a world war, nor do I think living and working through a world war was easy. Not to mention the fact that the social progress we’ve made over the last 80 years is incredibly important. Things are not perfect now, but we generally have a lot more human rights these days. That all being said, maybe I just wish that we hadn’t developed computers in the rapid way we have. Because I would have loved being a codebreaker.

And sure, I could do cryptography now, but cryptography today looks so different from the cryptography of the past. Really, this is a good thing. Everything is generalized so you attack an entire system rather than decoding single messages. Which is significantly more efficient, but it doesn’t have the same puzzle quality to it.

This all too say, I live vicariously through books about codebreaking. And I love mysteries, and historical fiction, and sapphic representation, so I was really excited to hear about The Killing Code.

When a girl at Arlington hall is found murdered, Kit and her friends start investigating. Soon, a pattern emerges and it becomes clear that someone is targeting government women. But Kit has her own secrets to hide, can she manage to complete her work, catch a killer, and keep herself safe?

The mystery was honestly a little disappointing. I figured out who the killer was about 1/3rd of the way through. Plus, they started to use circular logic which irked me. I understand they are all amateurs, but their detective skills were not incredibly good. The lack of common sense from girls who were supposed to be smart was just a bit much for me. So I did not find it to be a particularly suspenseful or puzzling mystery.

Thankfully, there were lots of other things I was able to enjoy. A lot of suspense came from Kit trying to keep her true identity a secret. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but with the strict security of Arlington hall, it could cost her her job. There were also the friendships between all of the girls, and the budding romance between Kit and Moya. 

All in all, The Killing Code was a fun and easy read. If you are a mystery aficionado, this is probably not for you. But if you like historical fiction, especially ones with mystery elements or sapphic representation in them, then I would recommend you give The Killing Code a try.

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